Overreacting to a November NBA game will more often than not make you sound like a clown rather than some sage observer of basketball. But I feel pretty confident declaring, after what we witnessed Tuesday, that the Golden State Warriors are a problem.
Like, officially a problem. Like, officially a serious problem. Like, a “god damn, you shouldn’t look this good, this early, with an incomplete roster” kind of problem.
Because how else should I feel after what we saw from the Warriors Tuesday? Hyperbole seems appropriate the day after Golden State, the best team in the NBA, punctuated its status as the Association’s surprise alpha dogs with a spanking of the Nets at Barclays Center. Led by Steph Curry, who poured in 37 points, 27 of which came from beyond the arc, the Warriors were exhilarating to watch as they blew the doors off of Brooklyn in a statement game. But a skeptic—like yours truly—always has questions.
Such as: can the Warriors keep this up? Are they for real for real? Is the sample size too small? Am I seriously overreacting after one game?
Answering my last question first, maybe I am, since—let’s keep it real here—the Nets weren’t even close to full strength not having Joe Harris, Nic Claxton, and, of course, Kyrie Irving for one of the league’s premier early matchups so far this season. But let’s give props where props are due. The Warriors, now 12-2 and owners of the NBA’s best record, were beyond impressive, torching Kevin Durant, James Harden, and the rest of the Eastern Conference favorites on their way to an eighth win in nine games. If you weren’t a believer in Golden State heading into Tuesday, chances are that performance made you one.
“That is the level we want to get to,” Durant said after the game.
If you want to be a hater, I guess you can throw cold water on the Warriors’ fast start by saying their stats and scintillating record represent a small sample size, since we haven’t even hit Thanksgiving. Or that they’ve feasted on some of the NBA’s scrubs so far. Frankly, I’m not someone who gets nuts like George Costanza on a car ride out to the Hamptons when it’s only November. Not when there’s so much basketball to be played, and not when so many variables—namely health—could easily screw everything up. Hey, the Jazz were practically unbeatable for huge stretches of the 2020-’21 season, and how did that turn out for them? The Lakers were the team to beat last season until Anthony Davis and LeBron James broke down. Contenders today can easily turn out to be pretenders in a few short months.
“We have championship DNA, but it’s been two years since we’ve been able to prove it.” — Steph Curry
But the Warriors, especially given that their core has a championship pedigree, feel like they are for real. They have wins over the Lakers, Clippers, and Bulls, and only one loss in regulation. Curry, now 33, is playing like an MVP. The supporting cast—especially Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole—has been awesome. The bench is deeper and more dynamic than last season’s, as evidenced by this tweet. And you might’ve seen this stat, but it bears repeating because it illustrates how absurd the Warriors have been so far: Golden State has outscored opponents by 124 points in the third quarter this season, doubling the next-best mark in the league. Most importantly, the Warriors are No. 1 in adjusted net rating (+11.38), and the defense, anchored by Draymond Green, is No. 1 in adjusted defensive rating (allowing 101.17 points per 100 possessions), making life hell for everybody, including Durant. KD had an off night Tuesday, only managing 19 points, hitting on just six of his 19 shots.
“They played great defense. They’ve got long defenders and guys that can help, sending bodies all the time when I had the ball,” Durant said after the game. “That’s what great defenses do.”
To look this good, this early, and still be without a few key pieces doesn’t seem fair because all this, of course, has been done without the services of Klay Thompson. The Warriors sharpshooter, trying to make his way back from two lost seasons due to injuries, only recently started participating in 5-on-5 action in practice. And don’t forget that James Wiseman, the No. 2 selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, hasn’t suited up yet, either. Imagine the version of the Warriors we saw Tuesday—only with more shooting, more size, and more dynamic athletes—continuing to cut precisely to the basket for easy buckets like Steve Kerr’s running some kind of off-the-books incentive program when they’re not lighting you up from downtown.
We know the Warriors have potential to be a title contender if Thompson proves to be the Klay of old once he returns. Plenty of experts thought they would eventually hit their stride in the second half of the season once the Splash Brothers were back together. Some thought this team, sans Thompson, was going to look a lot like last season’s squad, which only made the Play-In Tournament largely because of Curry’s brilliance. Who saw this coming from Golden State out of the gates?
“We have championship DNA, but it’s been two years since we’ve been able to prove it,” Curry told the Inside the NBA crew after his fifth 30-plus-point performance of the season.
If the Warriors keep it moving—continue to play stifling D, with Curry prodigiously producing on a nightly basis, the supporting cast performing above and beyond expectations, and Thompson eventually picking up where he left off—November’s problem will be June’s diabolical dilemma.